Editorial Roundup: Walz, Legislature should strengthen oversight

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

With money flowing like never before from the federal government and a state surplus of $17.6 billion, the likelihood of fraud grows with every dollar arriving. So it’s critical that fraud oversight be increased proportionately.

And there’s no better example of the need for more oversight than the $250 million fraud case surrounding the federal funds for Feeding Our Communities food program. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has laudably pursued aggressive prosecution of fraudulent players, indicting some 50 individuals. But the money has vanished, taken from the hungry mouths of children to buy luxury cars and fancy vacations for those involved.

Pandemic funds through four pieces of federal legislation totaled $3.4 trillion. That’s not including the American Rescue Plan ( another $1.9 trillion), the Jobs and Infrastructure Act ($1.2 trillion) and the Inflation Reduction Act ($650 billion).

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That’s a lot of money to track.

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed establishing an inspector general for the Department of Education, adding staff at six state agencies to oversee grants, providing more resources to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for fraud investigations and adding auditors to Minnesota Management and Budget for its oversight teams.

That may not be enough.

Walz is to make more specific recommendations in his budget proposal and ask the Legislature to set up a statewide grants management system.
Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature agree with the need for more program oversight, with some Republicans saying even more is needed and commissioners of departments should be held more accountable.

We urge Walz to pursue all of the above efforts to track and root out fraud. With the amount of money coming in, there needs to be a robust response and resources to track the funds.

In addition to plans for more audits and bolstered staff at departments, it seems reasonable the state auditor and legislative auditor should be involved as well. We need to set up a system of checks and balances that cannot be rejected by the courts, as was the situation in the Feeding Our Communities cases.

And all auditing agencies should be required to provide full disclosure of their work, their communications and make even draft audits available to the public. And auditing agencies should be free from political influences. That makes adding staffers to executive departments problematic without conflict of interest rules.

Taxpayer and public monies delivered through government are now coming through a firehose-like system that will drown out oversight if it is not similarly robust.

— Mankato Free Press, Jan. 13

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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